Lake Placid is to hockey like Saratoga is to horse racing, still the place everyone wants to go.
A difference is in Saratoga everyone knows (or can look up) what horse, trainer, jockey and owner competed there, who won by how many lengths, and the name of the girl on the Count's arm when Man o' War blew the hats off the people seated even in the back row.
OK, not quite, but what is missing in Lake Placid is the history of the game here where the 1932 arena, the first indoor venue for hockey and other skating events on the East Coast was built and, in so doing, cemented the village's future as the capital for winter sports in North America.
Jim Hadjis holds an article and photo of him participating on a Lake Placid Pee Wee hockey team playing at Madison Square Garden in 1949. (Photo — Naj Wikoff)
The Lake Placid North Elba Historical Society wants to rectify the lack of a central record of who did what, when, where, why, how and 'Oh boy!' about the game of hockey. They strongly suspect that squirreled away on shelves, in boxes, attics and memories, and hung from hooks on walls are all manner of photos, trophies, newspaper clippings, old 8 and 16 mm films, and downright juicy stories about hockey (games, players, coaches et al) held or launched from here.
"In 1949, six teams were selected to compete in Madison Garden, and we were one of them," said Jim Hadjis. "We were chosen to represent Lake Placid. That's me in the goal," this latter said pointing to a small figure in the center of a team shot. We lost, but I'll tell you what, how many teams have had that opportunity?"
"We were a bit of a sand lot team that was put together in 1948," he continued. "I think we were Placid's first Pee Wee hockey team. It included Rod Dashnaw, Ray Bigelow and Ray Pratt. It was a good team, really good team. They all went on to become All Americans. All I can remember is we went to Madison Square Garden. I think we lost the game because we were all in awe coming into a big place like that and seeing all the people. What does that do to a little kid who is 13 or 14 years old? Makes you nervous, I would think. We didn't get going until the second period. If we had a third period, I think we would have caught up and won. They only had two periods in that game. We had an amazing team. We just needed a bit more time."
Hadjis was one of many who came out for the Historical Society's March 26 Odds and Ends lecture on the history of hockey, led by their board member Steve Reed along with Butch Martin and Denny Allen. It was held at the Lake Placid Convention Center.
Reed began by sharing the first high school game he could find, one between Northwood and Lake Placid High School in 1926. Martin dug up that Romeo Prioux formalized the Lake Placid High School team in 1930, a season that included two games against Tupper Lake and one against Northwood. What took place between then and 1960 is a bit vague.
"I do not have a whole lot of information from the '30s to the '60s, and I hope the general public can help us fill in the blanks," said Martin. "I know Romeo was the first coach and probably coached for a long time, probably into the mid-'50s. Romeo was also our high school principal, and his wife was my second-grade teacher."
"Here is a photo of the Lake Placid Athletic Club. They ran until 1939 and were associated with St. Eustace," said Reed. "Does anybody know anything about them? They were quite good and sometimes played at Madison Square Garden. They were a precursor to the famous Lake Placid Roamers."
He showed a photo of Jack Shea as a hockey player with Romeo Prioux standing beside him.
"Who can tell us more about that? Here is a shot of the first incarnation of the Roamers. Notice how many had French-Canadian names."
"Here is a picture that's a big one," continued Reed. "Ray Bigelow, Roddy Dashnaw and Ray Pratt as a high school line up, one line, three guys that ended up in their college one's division halls of fame for athletics, Ray and Ray at St. Lawrence and Roddy at Brown. That is quite an accomplishment for a small town like this."
"I don't know how I got into hockey," said Bobby Preston. "We all played, first outdoors without skates in the yard with sticks we taped up, no skates, just running and playing. Every night, that's what we used to do. I think hockey is the best game there is. You are moving all the time. The body contact doesn't mean that much to me. It's hard to explain. I played on the Roamers for about 10 years. It was fun. It was exciting, and we found out that there were a lot of people in the stands, too!"
"Hockey has been my whole life," said Martin. "I can remember in the old '32 rink there was an area we called the back patch. That is where I started to skate. I like the camaraderie and the competitiveness. I love seeing the boys we coached become young men and leaders. That is probably one of the biggest thrills I get as I get older, the success and the guidance you give them throughout means as much as winning."
"I have volunteered to take on the task of putting together a history and timeline of Lake Placid hockey, which will hopefully be available within a year on the kiosk at the museum," said Reed. "People will be able to go through and see some of the great pictures we have and perhaps have some narrative that will give some overall context to the history of hockey in Lake Placid. In order to do that, we need the help of people who know a lot more than I do."
"I think the idea of capturing and presenting the history of hockey in Lake Placid is great," said Bobby Preston. "I just told my wife this morning that I want to start looking through the attic for news clips, pictures and everything because there are a lot of stories."
Got a lead, a story or a photo? Call or email Jennifer Tufano, director of the Historical Society. She and Steve Reed want to know. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 518-523-1608.